Superheroes Live Amongst Us!

Today, was the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. We were unaware of this as we set off on a (comparatively short) bike ride around the sights of Sydney. A half marathon is a crazy 21km long. Turns out this is one of Australia’s most iconic and largest half marathons. It takes in many of the big sights of Sydney e.g. the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Iconic it may be, but Sydney is a hilly city and there are hills on this route. Seems cruel to arrange a route with hills considering the massive distance these poor runners had to endure!

Our first hint that there was a running event were some people walking away with bib numbers pinned to their shirts. We did not understand then, that these people were the absolute cream of the crop and had already finished their 21km morning run.

Next, we rode along the sidewalk of the road which formed the final leg of the half marathon. At this point, there were loads of runners streaming past us, giving it their all, on the final leg. They had amazing rhythm and groove to their running, and they must have been relieved to get close to the end. Grit, sweat, resilience and determination was written all over their faces. They were a diverse bunch. Not just all the sinewy marathon types you would come to expect. There were men and women of all different ages, races and sizes. There were quite a number that you would never expect, based on their physique, would be capable of running such a long distance.

As someone who wants to slow to a walk after 90 seconds of slow jogging, the idea of running 21km is unfathomable and an unreachable goal. Yet, hundreds of people were doing it! And this bunch, was doing it with, dare I say it, some ease! Yes, they looked exhausted and hot, but their run had an unstoppable rhythm. There was no doubt they would easily make it to the finish.

No photos of the runners because I was strangely transfixed looking into their faces, wondering how much they were hurting and how they could keep going. Also, because I try not to take photos of people for the blog without their consent.

Some time later on, we came upon the stragglers. These were runners who had slowed to an exhausted walk. They were passing the hydration station where volunteers were still cheering them on as if they would win the race. I really commend them for taking on a half marathon and kudos to the volunteers for providing such encouragement and facilitating the hydration station. Other volunteers were spaced along the route, some were keeping up a constant stream of encouragement to the passing runners. What legends!

The most amazing thing was, riding through the city later on and seeing these runners, still with their bib numbers pinned on, melding back into the normal population with us mere mortals. These superheroes, distinguishable only on this special day with their bib numbers and medals were morphing into mum’s, dads, sons, daughters, friends etc. We saw runners walking home!! Seems insane after such a massive physical feat to have to then walk home! We saw runners who had turned into mothers, dealing with their whingey kids. Some were walking and munching on an apple, others had stopped for a well deserved brunch, many were chatting on their phones or with their friends. All were highly functioning despite just running 21km! They had all cooled off and looked almost normal. You could not tell that these people had just run 21km! They were now, just people, going about their Sunday, getting on with the things they had to do.

These superheroes, live amongst us every day!!

These people are such an inspiration. They are our aspiration.

Tips for a Backpacker Roadtripping Australia

Travelling in a new country is exciting but sometimes, the mundane stuff of life can be frustrating. This post is for a person new to Australia and specifically targeted for someone who wants to travel around Australia by road. This is all the boring information to keep you safe and help you save money so you can get on with the fun stuff.

The blog will be split into two sections; safety tips and cost saving tips. For costs, frugal tips will be provided for all the major expenses for road-tripping Australia i.e. fuel, accommodation, food, sightseeing, gear etc.

SAFETY TIPS

  • Australia is a big country. Don’t underestimate the distances! Stay awake and alert when you drive. Pull over for a rest if you have to. Fatigue can cause accidents and a high speed accidents can easily by fatal.
  • When travelling in remote areas, understand the capacity of your fuel tank and know where you can buy fuel next.
  • Always have water in your vehicle and take water with you on remote walks.
  • If you breakdown, stay with your vehicles instead of walking off to find help. Many tourists have died walking off to look for help. You are easier to find by your vehicle.
  • The sun is strong in Australia. Slip, Slop, Slap i.e. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a broad brim hat.
  • Listen to the locals and obey signage when it comes to animals such as crocodiles and jellyfish. Yes, you may be hot and desperate for a swim but there is a reason why no one else is in the water!
  • Snakes are usually more scared of you than you are of them. As you tramp through the bush, they will hear your noisy approach and slither off.
  • There are some venomous spiders. Just use your common sense and take reasonable care and you’ll be fine.
  • DO NOT drive at dawn and dusk. This is when many animals are more active. You are at a MUCH greater risk of driving into a kangaroo or even a cow. If you have to drive at that time, lower your speed and watch carefully. These animals can behave unpredictably and you will have less warning than you think.

MONEY SAVING TIPS

FUEL

Fuel is a big expense on a road trip especially considering the distances involved in traveling around Australia. Always look for the cheapest fuel along your route. If you deviate a great distance from your route for cheap fuel, it could be a false economy.

You may only save a few dollars each time but the savings accumulate. These websites are useful for finding the cheapest fuel. Most states and territories have accurate fuel prices information provided by the government except for Victoria and Tasmania. The information in Petrolspy in Victoria and Tasmania is crowdsourced so can be inaccurate especially for remote or small fuel stations.

Other tips for saving fuel include

  • When planning your trip, do your research and plan an optimised route so you don’t double back to see something you have missed. Minimising the number of kilometres you drive, saves fuel and saves wear and tear on your vehicle, thereby reducing maintenance costs and increasing vehicle re-sale value.
  • Take advantage of supermarket fuel discounts. Coles provides a 4c/L discount when you spend more than $30 in their store. The voucher is on the bottom of your paper receipt. Woolworths does similar but their vouchers are automatically stored on your Woolworths Rewards Card. These discounts only apply in affiliated fuel stations (which despite the discount, still may not be the cheapest!)
  • G’day park membership gives 4c/L off at Coles Express fuel stations.
  • Drive slower. The sweet spot for fuel economy is about 80km/hr.
  • Do not speed. Speed radar cameras are used because they are a good revenue earner for the government. Even just 2km/hr over the limit can get you caught and the fines are often steep and you will also get demerit points. Penalties are even harsher on public holiday long weekends to minimise road deaths.

ACCOMODATION

These accommodation tips assume that you will be camping. If you will be staying in hotel type accommodation, the advice is to shop around. For camping,

  • Download the Wikicamps app. There is a tiny fee but it will pay back many times over. This app will tell you where you can camp including places you can camp for free. For each place, it will tell what amenities are available e.g. toilets, showers etc. This app is absolutely essential for road-tripping Australia. An inferior free alternative is Campermate.
  • Free camp – There are plenty of areas set-up where you can rest overnight or free camp. Some of these will include drop toilets and/or picnic tables. Use Wikicamps to find these or there will road-signs that pre-empt the turn-off to a rest area.
  • The two big caravan park chains in Australia are Big4 and G’day parks. Big4 charges consistently more per night but tends to be newer and nicer. Both offer a quality and consistent product. For $50, you can purchase a 2 year membership which will get you a 10% discount for each night stayed and other perks. For value for money and a greater number of locations around Australia, I recommend a G’day park membership. They also often sell their membership at a reduced price of $35. G’day park membership also comes with a fuel discount at all Coles Express fuel stations.
  • Plan ahead around busy periods e.g. school holidays. Things get crazy around school holiday times in popular holiday destinations. The price for accommodation goes through the roof and that’s if you can get something! We were quoted $110 a night for an unpowered campsite on the Great Ocean Road on Easter weekend! In Kalbarri, there was absolutely nothing to be had during the school holidays as a recent cyclone had damaged a lot of the pre-existing holiday accommodation.

FOOD

To save on food in Australia, it is almost always, especially in remote areas, cheaper to cook yourself rather than eat out. If you are in the big cities, there are discounts to be had eating out. These are documented in this blog post.

  • Coles and Woolworths are the two nation-wide large supermarket chains. You will find these in all but the smallest towns.
  • If you are in a big city, it will be cheaper to shop at Aldi
  • If you are heading to remote areas, stock up so you don’t have to shop at tiny, small town supermarkets at a premium price.
  • Supermarkets often mark down items close to their expiry date. Take advantage of these if you can. I find Coles is better for these types of discounts.
  • Shop at markets and food court stalls near closing time. Often, they are trying to move their stock to avoid waste and will discount heavily.
  • Don’t waste your money on buying water. The water out of the tap in Australia (unless marked otherwise) is potable and can be drunk as is without any further treatment e.g. boiling. Drink tap water!
  • Join the Woolworths Reward card program and Flybuys for Coles. As you shop, you can accumulate points for additional discounts.

GEAR

When travelling around the country, you are likely to need some stuff e.g. camping stove, clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, pots and pans etc. Here are some places you could look for this stuff. This list is ordered from least expensive to the most. My suggestion is to look online (if you can) to confirm they have what you want at a decent price before heading to the store.

  1. Check on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree – secondhand stuff can often be much better quality than you would have purchased new and it’s better for the environment.
  2. Thrift shops e.g. Vinnies, Salvation Army, Good Sammy – a great choice for secondhand clothing and kitchenware.
  3. Bunnings – this is a nation-wide chain of hardware stores selling hardware, plants and other household items. Here you can buy 20L water containers, butane cannisters, folding chairs, camping stoves for a reasonable price.
  4. Kmart, BigW, Target – these stores are nation-wide chains selling clothes, kitchenware, bedding and homewares. If you are looking for casual clothing, bedding or camping gear, check here before heading to more specialist stores. It may not be high end fancy but it will be a decent quality and functional.
  5. Decathlon – This shop sells outdoor and sporting goods at an excellent price point. Unfortunately, there are only stores in NSW and Victoria so it is not widely available.
  6. 4WD Supacentre – this store specialises in camping accessories and outdoor gear with a focus on road-tripping. Their prices are good and they often have specials. You can also order stuff online.
  7. BCF and Anaconda – Do you research and pounce when they go on sale!
  8. For completeness, I will finish this list with the high end outdoor shops but DO NOT shop here if you are a budget backpacker e.g. North Face, Macpac, Paddy Pallin, Kathmandu.

BUYING AND MAINTAINING A VEHICLE

The most useful resources in Australia when buying a vehicle are;

  • Carsales.com.au
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Gumtree
  • Facebook groups – there are Facebook groups selling all kinds of vehicles e.g. Vans for Sale NSW, Australia Car Market / Campervans for Backpacker / Traveler etc.

When buying a vehicle, always do your research to understand all the costs and requirements which can vary from state to state. Registration costs can vary depending on state and each state has different requirements in regards to the requirement for vehicle inspections. Understand how much stamp duty will cost.

When buying stuff for your car e.g. engine oil, coolant etc., these are the nation wide stores that sell vehicle stuff in order of cheapest to most expensive. Remember always to check online and compare prices.

  1. SupercheapAuto
  2. AutoBarn
  3. Repco

For vehicle servicing;

  • Try to plan your vehicle servicing for when you are in more populated cities. These are likely to have more mechanics and therefore more price competition. Shop around for the best price.
  • Some mechanics may allow you supply your own engine oil. You can then buy your engine oil on sale and pay only for labour. Call and confirm with the mechanic as not everyone will allow this. Make sure you know what oil to get because it will be your fault if you get it wrong!
  • Some nation-wide franchised mechanic chains offer a warranty where they will rectify issues caused by their service at their other branches. Some of these chains will even include a roadside assistance service as a perk of getting a service with them. Some nation-wide mechanic chains include; Ultratune, MyCar, RepcoService etc. Do your research as to which one of these provide these types of warranty.

In regards to vehicle insurance, always shop around as the price can vary significantly.

SIGHTSEEING

Visiting local parks and botanic gardens are free. These are often well planted with an interesting and diverse range of plants and may be adjacent to picturesque lakes and rivers. They often include additional amenities such as picnic tables, public toilets and sometimes BBQs.

Exploring a town or city is also free unless you join a paid tour. With all the information available on the internet and easily accessible on your phone, it’s easy to learn more about any location. Explore the main street of a small town or drive/cycle along the waterfront roads to gawk at the fancy, expensive houses! Most towns or cities that are built by the water, whether it is a river or the ocean will often have a nicely built waterfront area perfect for a lovely, scenic stroll.

Beaches are free and freely accessible in Australia, in contrast to the paid private beaches e.g. in Europe or areas where private property is built in a way that blocks free public access to the beach e.g. Asia or Europe.

There are many free lookout points in Australia and access to national parks is relatively cheap when considering that the rangers have the never-ending battle keeping out invasive plant species and feral animals, ensuring the walking trails are safe and maintaining toilets and other amenities. National parks are areas of stunning, untouched natural beauty. 

MOBILE DATA

Shop around when looking for a phone plan as prices vary greatly. We were with Circles.Life with 100GB plans at $30.

Telstra is the mobile network that has better coverage in remote areas but they can be very expensive. Optus was OK. We had coverage in most populated areas and even in some surprise locations e.g. the campground at Karijini National Park. In a 2WD vehicle, we knew that even if we broke down somewhere without phone coverage, another vehicle would come along soon enough who could provide assistance.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Toll roads exist in some major capital cities. Either set your GPS to avoid them completely or do your research on the cost and how to set-up for payment.
  • There is a minimum wage in Australia therefore, tipping is not the cultural norm.
  • When you can, zig when other people are zagging. Try to predict what the masses will be doing and consider if doing the opposite could get your better price e.g. if everyone is heading out of the city for Easter weekend, maybe there is cheap city deal you can take advantage of.
  • Don’t throw useful stuff away, sell it on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree.

Hope this helps you stay safe and save some money. Enjoy your journey around this beautiful country!

Let me know if there is anything I have missed.

Don’t Forget Your Pool Noodle!

Ahh! The humble pool noodle! The cylindrical, colourful piece of buoyant foam. On our road trip, there have been a number of occasions where the pool noodle has transformed a beautiful waterhole into something truly magical. Of course, a pool noodle can be used in any waterbody as a flotation device. The best, in my opinion is for swimming in a beautiful location, where the pool noodle, eliminates the need to physically keep oneself afloat. You can then drift along, enjoying the serenity and the magnificent surroundings. This is particularly useful in fresh water situations where you have less buoyancy than in salt water.

Pool Noodle. Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pool_noodle

Here is a list of stunning places around Australia where you should not forget your pool noodle! Float away, chillax, feel the serenity and marvel at the scenery. This list is not in any particular order because honestly, I could not order them. They are all truly special places!

ORMISTON GORGE, TJORITJA / WEST MACDONNELL NATIONAL PARK, NT

In this part of Australia, you are almost certainly going to be hot, hot, hot! Cool off with a refreshing swim in Ormiston Gorge. In fact, take care, some parts are so cold, you can get hypothermia! Lay back with your pool noodle and look at the sculptural, red rock bordering this swimming spot. Feel special because the vast majority of people in this world will never get remote enough to enjoy this unique place.

Ormiston Gorge

LAKE ARGYLE, NEAR KUNUNURRA, WA

For a closer look at Lake Argyle and the dam, head to Lake Argyle Resort. Bear in mind, despite the vastness of the lake from the various vantage points in this area, the actual lake is much, much bigger and cannot be seen in it’s totality from the ground. From the resort there are walking trails that take you down to Lake Argyle where you can swim. There are freshwater crocodiles in the lake but there are much more timid when compared to their saltwater counterparts.

Lake Argyle- only a tiny part, the vast majority cannot be seen from this vantage point.

LELIYN (EDITH FALLS), NITMILUK NATIONAL PARK, NT

In this delightful spot, there is a huge waterbody and a waterfall at the far end. Despite how hot the climate is, the water feels almost too cold when you first get in. It’s quite a long swim to get a closer look at the waterfall but don’t worry, you have your pool noodle to make the journey easier!

Edith Falls. Image from https://www.ourterritory.com/katherine_region/edith_falls.htm

EMMA GORGE AT EL QUESTRO, WA

Venturing out from Kununurra, it is worth making a day trip to Emma Gorge. This is the only site in the El Questro area readily accessible to 2WD. The hike to the waterhole takes about an hour and is quite rugged in parts. It’s worth it for the spectacular landscape on the way as well as the magical, cool, waterhole. Coming upon this beautiful waterhole at Emma Gorge makes the sweaty hike worthwhile. Swimming is OK in the cool, refreshing waters of the waterhole but beware a resident freshwater crocodile! To the right most side of the waterhole is a small thermal spring which is lovely if the water is getting too cold for you.

Emma Gorge

KATHERINE HOT SPRINGS, KATHERINE, NT

These natural thermal springs are within the town of Katherine. They are a lovely spot to relax after a long day of driving or sightseeing.

Katherine Hot Springs

THE GROTTO, WYNDHAM, WA

On the way to Wyndham, a “must see” stop is The Grotto. There is a hike down of 144 steps to get to a gorgeous, refreshing swimming hole. This is really a special place!

The Grotto

ELLERY CREEK BIG HOLE, TJORITJA / WEST MACDONNELL NATIONAL PARK, NT

This is a spectacular waterhole. Imagine swimming, dwarfed by these immense red cliffs towering over you on either side. Float around with your pool noodle and ponder our minuscule existence against geological time!

Ellery Creek Big Hole

BITTER SPRINGS, ELSEY NATIONAL PARK, MATARANKA, NT

Firstly, the picture below, does not do this location justice. It’s far more beautiful, if you can be believe it. The water is crystal clear and naturally, an unbelievable shade of blue-green. The waterhole is shaped like a “L” with a gentle current flowing in one direction. It’s a hot spring so the water is a lovely temperature. The thing to do is to get in at one end and drift gently downstream with the current. As you drift along, admire the scenery in the dappled light filtered through the palm fronds on either side. When you reach the other end, get out, and walk back to the start and float gently downstream again! Repeat! Bliss!

This spot can get busy so if you are after that perfect photograph, best to select an off-peak time to visit.

Bitter Springs. Image from https://lovefamilylifetravel.com/mataranka-hot-springs/

BERRY SPRINGS NATURE PARK, NT

At the start, I said I could not order the places but I didn’t say that I couldn’t pick a favourite!! My favorite place to take my pool noodle is the waterholes at Berry Springs Nature Park. This gorgeous spot is only a 40 minute drive from Darwin CBD. Take a picnic and your pool noodle. There are toilet facilities. This place does not allow swimming in the wet season due to crocodiles but as dry season approaches, the rangers trap them and open the waterhole when it is deemed safe. Check on their website to confirm they are open before driving over.

Make a day of it by visiting Territory Wildlife Park to see some local wildlife. My hot tip if you do visit this park is to attend all the daily talks and presentations. They are all excellent and in particular, the bird show is sensational! You can also visit Crazy Acres nearby for some locally made mango icecream using locally grown mangoes! End your busy day with a nice meal at Berry Springs Tavern or Darwin River Tavern. Both are very good.

In Berry Springs Nature Park, there are three areas to swim. There are 2 large pools and a smaller section with a waterfall. There are steps or a ladder to enter each of these sections. The areas can be quite busy on weekends or school holidays. You can enter into any one of these sections and swim or float to the other sections. There are so many stiflingly hot and humid days in this part of Australia that the cooling effect of getting into the water is simply divine! It’s such a special spot and with your pool noodle, you won’t have to work on staying afloat. You can just take it all in!

Berry Springs Waterfall. Image from https://nt.gov.au/parks/find-a-park/berry-springs-nature-park
Berry Springs Pool 1. Image from https://nt.gov.au/parks/find-a-park/berry-springs-nature-park
Berry Springs Pool 2. Image from https://nt.gov.au/parks/find-a-park/berry-springs-nature-park

Do you know any super special secret waterholes? Care to share?

Blue Mountains – a worthy major attraction!

The Blue Mountains, a mere hour out of Sydney and also accessible by public transport, is a major attraction in this part of Australia and justifiably so. The scenery is simply impressive. On the days we were there, it had been raining solidly for weeks so we were lucky to see the waterfalls engorged with water which made up for the grey, overcast skies.

Unfortunately, I felt the visit was marred by a few negative aspects. The visitors centre was hopeless. After such recent bad weather, we were relying on them to tell us which walks were open and which ones were closed due to bad weather. They were unable to do this. This should have been one of their fundamental functions as it has a safety consequence. Only a few days prior to our visit, there was an emergency rescue of people who were stuck on a trail closed due to weather damage.

Also, beware, there is only paid parking near the visitors centre and it wasn’t cheap! This is annoying as the visitors centre is the trailhead for many of the most famous walking trails for the Blue Mountains. After lapping Australia and enjoying free parking in all but the absolute centre of the major capital cities, this was a disappointment and a shock.

The signage on the walking trails were also a bit confusing for such a major attraction.

Nevertheless, as you can see from my photos, this area is absolutely magnificent.

Lucky to be there on the first fine day after weeks of rain. The waterfalls were at their voluminous best!
Spectacular waterfalls engorged with a lot of recent rain
This rock looks like the spiky back of a dinosaur!
Despite the overcast day, this was still a spectacular view.
Blue Mountains
Three Sisters, Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains

Roma Saleyards and the Origin of Oil and Gas in Australia

With a population of about 7000 people, the town of Roma has a couple of claims to fame. Firstly, it is the location where the first oil and gas industry originated in Australia. Secondly, it hosts the largest cattle selling centre in Australia.

The Big Rig in Roma, is the major tourist attraction in town. Learn the story of how oil and gas first flowed into the nation. There is good historical information as well as old machinery, rigs and equipment to look at.

We were extremely disappointed to be unable to time our trip to Roma to catch the weekly live cattle auctions at the saleyards on Tuesday mornings. This would have been an awesome sight as this place sells a massive number of cattle from New South Wales, Northern Territory and Queensland. There are tours of the saleyards and you can watch the live auction on Tuesday mornings. If you miss out on the live auction, there is an excellent interpretive centre which is free entry for the public. This is a modern facility and very well done. You can also wander around the empty saleyards and just marvel at the scale of this operation.

Roma Saleyards
Roma Saleyards